‘Remote Bangalore’ begins at a rickety ironing cart stationed by a park in the residential area of Indira Nagar. The 50 participants at the event — curated by Rimini Protokoll and supported by the Goethe-Institut — receive headphones, a radio receiver and a Namma Metro card. Next to us, a young man irons his way through a small mountain of clothes. I ask him what he knows about the event, which has been kicking off next to his cart since the end of January. “Something is said in English and some music plays, that’s about all,” he shrugs.
As I ponder about the inclusiveness of the project, the group is instructed to move into the park. Here we ‘meet’ Deepa, a synthetic voice created using multiple samples of the female voice. Her accent is somewhat Indian, and she makes our acquaintance unconventionally, “Most of you weigh between 40 and 120 kilos. I have no weight. I am faceless, mouth-less,” says she.
What follows is two hours of listening, walking, observing and climbing, all guided by Deepa. Initially, she directs us to spaces. A school, a hospital, a metro station. While walking up the stairs to the station, Deepa talks about how man has climbed the ladder of evolution, from learning how to walk to creating the wheel, the telegram and the age of information we live in today. The sound design is so well-executed, it makes us feel as though the sounds are emanating from the spaces we inhabit. On leaving the hospital, for instance, we hear dogs barking and simultaneously, see a dog running towards us. Is this a ploy? A choreographed ‘coincidence’? Some in the group even take off the headphones to check if the origins of the sounds we hear are within or without.
Not a flat drone, Deepa pauses to ask us questions. In a shrub-filled path en route to an abandoned children’s hospital, she asks, “Would you be comfortable walking here alone at night?” “Would you be comfortable walking here alone… as a woman at night?” Slowly, the group, which began as a disconnected set of urban dwellers, becomes — as christened by our guiding voice — the ‘horde’.
Soon, we are not afraid to break into a dance on the metro when Deepa plays Jump by Van Halen. Or walk down Church Street pumping our fists in the air like at a demonstration. The foley effects of a heated protest on the headphones, makes us comfortable in our roles. At one point, we are told to walk backwards on the pavement near a busy road. Almost as if it was planned, cars pile up in a jam, while the voice points out how the richer we get, the more vehicles we own and the more stuck we are in traffic. As though, as a civilisation, we are moving backwards.
Onlookers are curious, but few make eye contact or ask what we are doing. Only children look on, inquisitive and unconditioned. The themes of the individual versus the horde, evolution, conditioning, public and private spaces as well as remarkable sound design, research and planning all merge together in the experience that is ‘Remote Bangalore’. The horde goes home happy, introspective and a tad tired; glad that it was far more thought-provoking than the man at the ironing cart had surmised, even if a little sorry that he couldn’t be a part of it.
Tara Rachel Thomas is a Bangalore-based writer
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